GREEN BAY – Having pointed out earlier in his Monday press conference that he has two young children, Mike McCarthy probably didn’t stay up until the very end of the Monday Night Football game between the San Francisco 49ers and Pittsburgh Steelers. After a pair of power outages delayed the game, the 49ers’ 20-3 victory didn’t go final until 11:26 p.m. Central time.
But that doesn’t mean the Green Bay Packers coach wasn’t interested in the outcome.
In fact, McCarthy – the same guy who was unwilling to prematurely divulge what his plans for the final two regular-season games would have been had the Packers remained undefeated – admitted that he and his coaching staff needed to discuss how to approach Sunday night’s game against the Chicago Bears and the Jan. 1 finale against the Detroit Lions.
All the Packers (13-1) need to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the postseason is one victory or one loss by San Francisco (11-3). That’s how the Packers entered the weekend, but their 19-14 loss at Kansas City and San Francisco’s darkness-delayed triumph left that magic number still at 1.
The 49ers’ next game is Saturday at Seattle, and with Packers-Bears being the only game being played on Christmas Day, McCarthy will go into Sunday’s game knowing if the Packers have clinched home-field advantage or not. If they have, McCarthy acknowledged that, given the current collective health of his team, he’ll have to consider sitting certain key players, now that the chance at a historic undefeated season is history.
“That's a good question. That's a question that really needs to take on more conversation,” McCarthy replied when asked if what the 49ers do will influence how he’ll approach the game. “I know how I feel now, and I know how our players feel. They can't wait for Sunday night. That's something that we'll take time. We'll prepare them for Chicago no different than we would in Week 1 or Week 10.
“We're going to get ready for Chicago. I think it's important for us to be ready. I'm more concerned with what goes on Tuesday to Saturday than I am Sunday night, and that was really the message to the team.”
When the Packers’ official injury report is released Wednesday, it figures to be a long one. Wide receiver Greg Jennings (knee) will be listed as out, as will backup tackle Derek Sherrod (broken leg), if he’s not on injured reserve by then. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who went down with a left knee injury against the Chiefs, probably won’t practice, while veteran left tackle Chad Clifton (hamstring/back), inside linebacker Desmond Bishop (calf), defensive tackle Ryan Pickett (concussion), running back James Starks (knee/ankle) and running back Brandon Saine (concussion) will likely take part on a limited basis. Right guard Josh Sitton (knee) and inside linebacker A.J. Hawk (calf), both of whom returned to the starting lineup Sunday, could be limited, too.
If Bulaga and Clifton can’t play against the Bears, the Packers projected starting offensive line would be the hodgepodge bunch they finished with Sunday: Marshall Newhouse at left tackle, Evan Dietrich-Smith at left guard, Scott Wells at center, Sitton at right guard and T.J. Lang, the normal left guard, at right tackle. That’s not the ideal group to field against Julius Peppers and the Bears defense.
“(Injuries are) something that every football team goes through,” McCarthy said. “We've had extensive experience over the last year (with them), so we're in a little bit of that mode right now.”
Injuries weren’t the Packers’ only problem in the wake of their first loss. On offense, the line allowed four sacks, quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed only 17 of 35 passes, and receivers dropped four passes while struggling to get open against the Chiefs’ tight press-man coverage.
“It wasn’t all because the quarterback wasn’t accurate throwing the football. It wasn’t all because we couldn’t beat man to man coverage. It wasn’t all because we had poor pass protection. But it was a little bit of everything,” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “I think sometimes it’s easy to say our line got handled, it got whipped. Certainly there were some plays where we’ve got to protect better, sometimes we’ve got to get open a little bit quicker, etc. etc. That’s why football’s such a great game. It’s a team game. Every man in the unit has got to do their job, and at times we didn’t do that.”
Defensively, while the Packers allowed the Chiefs to score just one touchdown in five trips inside the red zone, they failed to generate a turnover for the first time this season, then allowed Kansas City to grind out the final 2:04 with a pair of rushing first downs despite having the 2-minute warning and three timeouts to work with.
“You have three timeouts, you expect to get the ball back,” McCarthy said.
“We depend a lot on taking that ball away, and disrupting the quarterback,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “I didn’t like how we finished the game in the 4-minute drill. When we had to go back out there, that’s when you have to be at your best, you have to find some way to get them stopped. And we didn’t do that. You combine that with not getting the takeaways, the sacks and we had two or three pass plays in there that we need to get corrected.”
Nevertheless, McCarthy hasn’t lost confidence in his team, even as it went from being talked about as potentially one of the greatest of all time to in danger of having peaked too early.
“I feel very good about our football team. We're 13-1,” McCarthy said. “Our team clearly understands the roller coaster ride that everybody likes to take you on. We knew the ride would just go that way. So it's important to stay in touch with reality. We had a chance to look at the video (of the loss), there's some things we didn't do very well yesterday that we need to do better and that's what we're focused on. I'm not going to (over) react to one game.
“Everybody goes through different challenges throughout their season, we've been hit with some injuries here and we'll fight right through them like we always have. My confidence hasn't wavered. We've got our next two games at home, we feel very good about the opportunity to clinch home-field advantage. A
“Like I told (the players), ‘If ESPN bothers you, don't watch it.’ The fact of the matter is, it's a long year. It's a long year, and we line up to win them all, just like I would think everybody in this league (does). We didn't win the one yesterday.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.